Fargo teachers share their stories of struggle

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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - Fargo teachers share their stories of struggle from inside the classroom amidst contract negotiations with the school district.

Thursday, the Fargo Education Association (FEA) released short stories from local teachers and the results of a study they conducted.
The study found that out of nearly 800 teachers surveyed, 68.5% said they felt “intimidated by or fearful of a student(s) in the last 3 years.” About 49% of the survey’s respondents said they have been “hurt/injured (physically or mentally) by a student(s).”

But not all of the teachers’ concerns are solely focused on student behavior concerns. Several of the teachers’ stories, as well as the survey, share concerns about the school district’s administrative team. 76% of teachers who participated in the survey said they don’t believe there is consistency within their schools when it comes to dealing with safety and behavior issues (such as procedures, documentation, and consequences).

"Our survey showed it wasn't necessarily special education kids at all – it was about 50/50. So that's not the issue at all," says David Marquardt, the FEA's President-Elect. "It goes back to the school board – ensuring that the policies and procedures are in place for them to initiate, really. I mean, they can't initiate a policy that's not there."

In a statement, Fargo's School Board President Rebecca Knutson has responded to the FEA's release.

She says, "The Fargo Board of Education is currently negotiating with the Fargo Education Association (FEA). The topic of school safety and the safety committee is currently being discussed at the negotiations table. The Board’s Negotiations Committee will continue to discuss these topics and more with the FEA through their planned meetings. The Board looks forward to reaching a contract agreement with the FEA and carrying out the district’s mission of educating and empowering all students to succeed."

Here is the full release:

FARGO, N.D. – “Since starting in (Fargo Public Schools) in the fall of 2018, I have been in a state of fear and intimidated almost daily, not only for myself but also for the other students in the classroom. I have been attacked, chased, bit, had things thrown at me and much more. I have missed out on large amounts of time with my class because of spending time out of the classroom with students that have severe behaviors.”

In March of 2019, the Fargo Education Association surveyed our members on the topic of safety in the classroom, for both students and staff, and received 796 responses from Fargo Public Schools teachers and school support staff. Their responses included hundreds of stories like the one listed above. There are harrowing accounts of teachers, counselors, paraeducators and fellow students being verbally, emotionally and physically abused, and the frustration they feel due to a system that does not listen to them.

“Educators put the safety of their students above all else,” said David Marquardt, FEA President-Elect. “Our students’ learning environment is the same space as our school employees’ working environment, though. In order to provide a safe environment for everyone in our schools, we are bringing common-sense proposals into our negotiations with the school board. Educators want a strong voice in the development and implementation of safety training procedures and protocols. Too many of them have been first-hand witnesses to violent episodes in their classrooms and buildings. Their continued input on how we work together to address this epidemic will be crucial.”

Out of 796 responses, 546 (68.5%) reported that they have felt “intimidated by or fearful of a student(s) in the last 3 years.” 392 (49.2%) said that they have been “hurt/injured (physically or mentally) by a student(s).” When asked “Do you feel there is consistency among safety/behavior issues in your school (i.e. procedures, documentation, consequences)?” 605 (76%) answered no.

“The FEA’s proposal to the Fargo School Board is to add language to our negotiated agreement that would firm up our association’s participation in policymaking around these issues. Educators and school support staff largely feel that these problems can be addressed, in a coordinated and consistent basis,” Marquardt said. “Their voices must be heard in how we respond, in coordination with administrators, parents, elected officials and the community in which we all serve.”

Attached to this release are some quotes from the survey. Authors’ identities are being withheld to protect their privacy and to prevent retaliation.

“Every day I dread coming to work because any choice I make could result in me being sued, investigated, losing my teaching job or even my teaching license. … When I was a teacher 8 years ago, my biggest worry was whether or not my students were making academic or social progress. Today, I feel fear and intimidation daily and do not feel support from my administration.”

“Often times, when we log students, nothing is done. More importantly, there isn’t always any communication from the administration to the teacher about the log entry. … It gives staff a feeling that they are not supported and that there are no consequences for below-the-line behaviors and/or bottom-line behaviors.”

“I do not think administrators/school board realize the balancing act that teachers face when they are dealing with a student in a moment of a violent crisis and still trying to maintain overall classroom management/instruction. Perhaps if administrators could cover the classroom while the teacher resolves the safety-behavior issue, that would be helpful.”

“Our school has a group of students who openly participate in campaigns of intimidation and harassment. Among other things, these students have verbally assaulted staff and students, cornered students in a bathroom and attempted to physically assault them, threatened to physically assault staff, coordinated a time in which they would all leave class to assault another student during their lunch, and waited for and followed students to their bus to continue to harass and threaten them.”

“I have had a few difficult students, and they always just send them back. This disrupts the other students, and I feel like their learning is jeopardized because of it. It is not fair to me or the students. I am always told just email the mom, then nothing ever comes of it.”

“I have been called every name in the book by students in the past. One year when I was pregnant I had a student threaten to beat, kick and burn my unborn baby. I did miscarry that year.”

“In prior years, at another school, I have had a student spit in my face multiple times, had students bite me and other staff. … I’ve been punched in the chest, shoved forcefully from behind. … I want to make sure you are aware of extreme behaviors that can be present with students who are in an elementary school.”

“Teachers have stopped going to the administration with issues because we know we are not going to be given any quality advice or assistance. Also, finding administration from day to day is next to impossible because they are literally running around after students all day. Or, if you do get a spare moment, it is often disrupted by someone talking in their headphone and then they just take off, making you feel like the conversation you were trying to have wasn't important and didn't matter.”

“I have been bitten, spit on, choked, hit on all areas of my body, slapped, pushed, said they would kill me (in detail), we get called derogatory names, swore at on a daily basis, I have had chairs thrown at me, all items in a classroom, food, pencils, rulers, broken equipment, desks, tables, my friends have received concussions, broken foot, fractured arms. … We live in fear from the moment we walk into the building.”

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